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The Tyranny of Heav'n: Milton, Magistrates, and the Rhetoric of Satan's Protestantism in Paradise Lost

. . . since the king or magistrate holds his authority of the people, both originally and naturally for their good in the first place, and not his own, then may the people, as oft as they shall judge it for the best, either choose him or reject him, retain him or depose him, though no tyrant, merely by the liberty and right of freeborn men to be governed as seems to them best. (John Milton, Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 757)

. . . the rulers’ power is from God . . . . The magistrate cannot be resisted without God being resisted at the same time . . . . private citizens . . . may not deliberately intrude in public affairs . . . or undertake anything at all politically. If anything in a public ordinance requires amendment . . . let them commit the matter to the judgment of the magistrate, whose hand alone here is free" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1510, 1511).

John Milton defended not only the overthrow, but also the execution of Charles I in his Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. In the second edition of TKM, Milton marshals a variety of oddly misrepresented Protestant authorities to bolster his case. Protestant Christians--from Luther, to Calvin, to Anabaptist figures such as Thomas Mh ntzer, to such contemporary English Presbyterian figures as Stephen Marshall--had long argued over what rights magistrates (but not the common people) had to take up arms against a king. The crux of the argument is this: Who may resist a king, and under what circumstances? In summary terms, the conclusions of the above-mentioned figures are these: so-called "private-persons" may themselves take no action whatsoever against either a king, a prince, or an inferior magistrate; these magistrates and/or princes may resist, and may even depose, a king or other superior ruler, if that ruler is behaving in a grossly unjust and violent way toward his subjects.

Milton puts many of these very same arguments in the mouth of his Satan. Satan uses the Protestant rhetoric of legitimate rebellion by "princes" or "inferior magistrates" against a king and transforms it into a rallying cry for the overthrow of God himself. Satan continually refers to his compatriots as "Princes," as "Powers," as "Potentates." Even the poem's narrator gets in on the act: in referring to Mammon in his pre-fall role as Heaven's architect, the narrator gives readers an image of "Scepter'd Angels" who viewed "many a Tow'red structure high," angels who "sat as Princes, whom the supreme King / Exalted to such power, and gave to rule, / Each in his hierarchy, the Orders bright" (I. 733-737). The political structure of Heaven itself is drawn on a model of a King and his princely magistrates, the very magistrates by whom, according to the above-mentioned Protestant thinkers, resistance, rebellion, and overthrow could be carried out under the right circumstances.

In making Satan the mouthpiece for Protestant theories of rebellion that spell out the "proper" relation of the individual Christian to secular authority, Milton critiques not only the theories themselves (which tended to uphold secular tyranny so long as it was decent enough to refrain from intruding into the realm of Christian religion), but also the notions of magistracy and kingship contained therein. Milton wants to take the arguments of Luther, Calvin, Mh ntzer, and Marshall into much more radical territory than those men were willing to enter. According to these men, the power of princes is from God. Satan goes even further, implying that the power of (heavenly) princes is "self-begot, self-rais'd," before he finally claims, of himself and his fellow princes, that "Our puissance is our own" (V. 860, 864). Milton come dangerously close to making the same claim for the people. For Milton, the people, in the sense of "private persons," do not need a representative body of magistrates to rid them of a tyrannical king. The people may rid themselves of such a king directly, because, according to Milton in TKM, "the power of kings and magistrates is nothing else but what is . . . committed to them in trust from the people" (755). In his Defense of the People of England, Milton writes that "kings . . . receive their kingship from the people alone, to whom they are bound to be accountable" (93). True, Milton is careful to include God in this theory of power, writing that "all human power . . . be of God" (TKM 754), and that the "right of the people . . . is from God" (Defense 94), but this making of the vox populi into an image of, or conduit for, the vox dei, tends, paradoxically, to threaten God with erasure. If the people may with this power appoint and depose kings and princes on earth, why may they not also turn this power against heaven? In arguing that the power of a king or a magistrate comes from, and may be revoked by, the people ruled by that same king or magistrate, while consistently portraying God himself as a king, Milton stakes out a position that not only disavows the political "Protestantism" of his Satan, but also threatens to undermine the authority of his God.

Calvin on Magistrates in Institutes of the Christian Religion

God ordains magistracy. Calvin is clear and insistent on this point. "Those who serve as magistrates are called ‘gods’" (1489). The scriptural passages he cites in support of this point (Exodus 22:8, and Psalm 82:1,6) use the word elohim, which may be translated variously as God, gods, and even magistrates or judges. Calvin takes full advantage of this word and its possible translations to suggest that magistrates are not merely appointed by God, but are in some way divine themselves due to the divine nature of their positions. "Authority over all things on earth is in the hands of kings and other rulers . . . by divine providence and holy ordinance" (1489). Civil authority is "the most sacred and by far the most honorable of all callings in the whole life of mortal men" (1490).

Magistrates do not simply get a free ride. There are requirements they must live up to in order to fulfill their sacred responsibilities. They should "remember that they are vicars of God, [and] they should watch with all care, earnestness, and diligence, to represent in themselves to men some image of divine providence, protection, goodness, benevolence, and justice" (1491). In other words, kings and magistrates are under obligation to stand in, in a way, for God, represent God to the people. If they fail to live up to these weighty responsibilities, then they have not only done wrong to men, but they are "insulting toward God himself, whose most holy judgments they defile" (1491,1492).

When the magistrate administers punishments, he "carries out the very judgments of God" (1497). Even though the pious are not to "afflict and hurt," in carrying out the judgments of God, the civil ruler is free from guilt: "all things are done on the authority of God who commands it" (1497).

Calvin is most emphatic in his insistence on the obedience due to civil authority. Subjects should always remember that in obeying the magistrate, they are obeying God, "since the rulers’ power is from God" (1510). "The magistrate cannot be resisted without God being resisted at the same time" (1511). Private citizens, moreover, are to have no voice in governmental affairs; their duty is simply to obey: "private citizens . . . may not deliberately intrude in public affairs . . . or undertake anything at all politically. If anything in a public ordinance requires amendment . . . let them commit the matter to the judgment of the magistrate, whose hand alone here is free" (1511).

Obedience is due even to unjust rulers. Calvin insists that absolute obedience is due not only to the benevolent ruler, but also to the tyrant. A wicked ruler can, in fact, be the judgment of God:

We are not only subject to the authority of princes who perform their office toward us uprightly and faithfully as they ought, but also to the authority of all who, by whatever means, have got control of their affairs . . . whoever they may be, they have their authority solely from him." (1512)

Calvin allows only one exception to this absolute obedience. Obedience to man must not be allowed to interfere with obedience to God:

such obedience is never to lead us away from obedience to him, to whose will the desires of all kings ought to be subject, to whose decrees all their commands ought to yield, to whose majesty their sceptres ought to be submitted . . .The Lord . . . is the King of Kings, who, when he has opened his sacred mouth, must alone be heard, before and above all men." (1520)

Calvin uses Nebuchadnezzar (the Babylonian king who crushed Jerusalem c. 587/586 BCE, then dragged the Judean population into captivity, cutting off "the heads of the high priest and of the rulers" according to Josephus [Antiquities X.viii.5, p.220]) as an example of a wicked ruler to whom obedience is nevertheless owed.

Calvin does appear to open a loophole, however. Sometimes God "raises up open avengers from among his servants, and arms them with his command to punish the wicked from miserable calamity" (1517). This appears to open the door to a possibility of justified overthrow of a wicked ruler. This kind of "avenger" is "armed from heaven" and subdues "the lesser power [the unjust ruler] with the greater [the power and justice of God], just as it is lawful for kings to punish their subordinates" (1517). Even though Calvin’s intention in this passage seems clearly antithetical to revolutions by the people (using as he does, a parallel between the relationship of God to King, and King to Subject), some kind of genie has been let out of the bottle here. Who is to verify what is, and what is not, a legitimate sending by God? Calvin tries to stuff the genie back in by saying that "unbridled despotism is the Lord’s to avenge" and that we "private individuals" should not "at once think that it is entrusted to us, to whom no command has been given except to obey and suffer" (1518). Only "magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings" (1519), such as the ephors of Sparta, the tribunes of Rome, and the demarchs of Athens, are to take up this call from God to subdue the lesser power with the greater. This notion of "constitutional" resistance will gain tremendous currency in the later 16th and throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Many will claim, as did the Puritan preachers and pamphleteers of the mid-17th century in England (among them one John Milton, whose Tenure of Kings and Magistrates takes Calvin’s argument and runs with it to justify the recent beheading of Charles I), that they have (or that they represent a group that has) just such a mandate from God.

Luther on Magistrates in Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed

On the question of any kind of active resistance to a ruler, Luther is clear: "For the governing authority must not be resisted by force, but only by confession of the truth" (698). Should this be taken to mean that Luther would forbid popular revolution, revolution even against the most horrible of secular tyrants? His later response to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1524-1526 seems to indicate an answer of "Yes."

On the question of the absolute limits of the obedience of subjects to their prince, Luther is slightly less clear. If a prince is definitely in the wrong, subjects are absolved of obedience: "It is no one’s duty to do wrong; we must obey God (who deserves the right) rather than men" (699). Luther further argues that if the subjects do not know whether or not the prince is in the wrong, they should obey: "So long as they do not know, and cannot with all possible diligence find out, they may obey him without peril to their souls" (700). According to Luther, Paul tells Christians "Let all souls be subject to the governing authority" (Romans 13:1), and Peter says "Be subject to every human ordinance" (1 Peter 2:13), because a true Christian lives and works on this earth not for self but for others. Since Christians live among non-Christians, and those non-Christians have need of the temporal law, Christians willingly submit to and assist the governing authority even if it is tyrannical "for the sake of others, that they may be protected and that the wicked may not become worse" (668). These two cases of the limits of obedience, when combined with injunctions to resist evil only through the auspices of temporal authority, considering not one’s self but one’s "neighbor and what is his" (670), seem to leave Christians entirely vulnerable to any secular tyranny, just so long as it stops short of demanding that Christians give up their beliefs.

Thomas Mh ntzer’s Sermon Before the Princes

In Mh ntzer’s formulation, the power of rulers, both superior and inferior, is the power to "wipe out the godless" through the "power of God" (68). The princes, the civil magistrates, rather than those whom Mh ntzer sneeringly refers to as "false clerics" (65), and "learned divines" (67), are to eliminate "the wicked who hinder the gospel" (65). If they do not do so, "the sword will be taken from them," as "the godless have no right to live except as the elect wish to grant it to them" (68, 69). Though Mh ntzer outlines the possibility of rebellion against a prince who fails in his duty, those empowered to overthrow such a ruler are not "private persons," but the "elect," specifically, and only, those who qualify as "true friends of God" (69). Who are the "true friends of God"? For Mh ntzer, they are the very princes who take seriously their duty to God's church, as opposed to those "godless rulers who should be killed, especially the priests and monks who revile the gospel as heresy for us and wish to be considered at the same time as the best Christians" (69 emphasis added). Those empowered to rebel, those empowered to overthrow and even kill a "godless ruler" are other rulers, not the people themselves.

Stephen Marshall's Letter . . . of the Parliament's taking up Defensive Arms

For Marshall, the power to rebel against a king lies, not with the people themselves, but with their representatives, the "representative body of a State" (3). This representative body may only rebel against the king when the question is one of "defence against unlawfull violence" (6). While Marshall does not contest the Royalist assertions that the power of Magistrates is from God, he does assert that Magistrates may be resisted if they are unjust:

. . . although they may not take from the Magistrate that power which God hath given him; yet may they defend themselves against such unjust violences, as God never gave the magistrate power to commit . . . . Where did any of the Fathers ever oppose this opinion, and condemn this practice, that is, declaring it unlawful especially for a representative body to defend themselves against the unjust violence of their misled Princes? ("A Letter . . .of the Parliament's taking up Defensive Arms," 1643, pp. 17, 20)

The question that remains is, who comprises the "they" who may not take from the Magistrate that power that is from God, yet may defend themselves against unjust violence? Private persons? No. The "they" referred to here is that "representative body of a State" that Marshall identifies with the Parliament of England. Inferior Magistrates may take up defensive arms against an unjust and violent king because they are, according to Marshall's interpretation of Romans 13, the "higher power" or "governing authority" whose power is from God. Marshall writes that "By the Supreme power must be meant, that power . . . [that] hath authoritie to make Lawes which shall bind the whole Nation . . . [and] to judge every person and persons in the Nation" (14). Marshall then outlines a tripartite system of power, a system consisting of 1) "The power of making and repealing Lawes," 2) "The power of making Warre and Peace," and 3) "The power of judging Causes and Crimes." It is this system that represents that power which may not be resisted:

Where these three meet, and make their residence, whether in one person, as in absolute Monarchs; or in many, as in mixed Monarchies or Aristocracies; or in the body of the people, as in the ancient Roman Government, there is the highest power which every soule is forbidden to resist. (14)

Marshall goes on to define this power as, in England, the King and Parliament together. Thus, the taking up of defensive arms by Parliament against Charles I is not an example of the kind of rebellion of private persons against a legal monarch to which both Luther and Calvin are so adamantly opposed, but an example of one part of the "higher power" trying to subdue another part of that same power to its proper role and function.

Satan's Protestantism in Paradise Lost

Satan mixes elements of each of these theories of the relation of subject to ruler into his rhetoric. In justifying his, and his faction's, rebellion against heaven's king, Satan portrays himself as a prince entitled and even required to resist an unjust monarch who is grasping for absolute power and thereby attempting to usurp that portion of the "higher power" or "governing authority" that belongs to the lower magistrates: "A third part of the Gods [again, read "Gods" as elohim in Calvin's sense of gods, magistrates, or judges], in Synod met / Thir Deities to assert, who while they feel / Vigor Divine within them, can allow / Omnipotence to none" (VI. 156-159).

The picture of heaven's king as a grasper, a usurper of powers not rightfully his own, is common to those who follow Satan's lead. Nisroch, "of Principalities the prime," addresses Satan as "Deliverer from new Lords, leader to free / Enjoyment of our right as Gods" (VI. 451, 452). Satan himself characterizes the pronouncement of the Son as the great Vice-gerent as a usurpation of power rightfully belonging to others: "Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers, / If these magnific Titles yet remain / Not merely titular, since by Decree / Another now hath to himself ingross't / All Power, and us eclipst under the name / Of King annointed . . . "(P.L. V. 772-777). Satan goes on to characterize this shift in heavenly politics as a demand for "Knee-tribute yet unpaid, prostration vile, / too much to one, but double how endur'd, / To one and to his image now proclaim'd?" (V. 782-784).

The political balance of Stephen Marshall's "Letter" is at work here in two ways: Satan is characterizing the heavenly system as having been one in which (until the usurpation) the threefold power of enacting laws, making wars, and judging "causes and crimes" had been shared by the king and parliament, the heavenly king and his heavenly princes and magistrates; the "Father infinite" of V. 596 is characterizing the heavenly system as one in which the threefold power is contained in one ruler, the heavenly king. By claiming to defend their right to rule, to defend "those Imperial Titles which assert / Our being ordain'd to govern, not to serve" (V. 801, 802), Satan and his followers are claiming their rights under a system of government which holds that it is the duty of lesser magistrates to hold the king in check. This fits quite nicely with Calvin's insistence that the only lawful political resistance to a tyrannous king could come from lower magistrates acting in concert with one another. It is, in fact, the sacred duty of such magistrates to resist tyranny, as is spelled out quite clearly in the following passage:

I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with their duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk, I declare that their dissimulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God's ordinance. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV. xx. 31, p. 1519)

That Satan claims to be fighting against tyranny is made clear by his numerous references to the Father as a tyrant: Hell is the "Prison of his Tyranny who Reigns / By our delay"; the Father is "our grand Foe, / Who now triumphs, and in th' excess of joy / Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav'n" (I. 122-124). The key here is the phrase "Sole reigning." In a system in which lesser magistrates or princes had real power, the monarch would not be in a position of exclusive and absolute reign. This makes sense of Satan's famous "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n" in a way that does not require that Satan be pictured as being himself an absolute ruler, a tyrant who rails against tyranny. Despite the "Oriental" descriptions of Satan given by the narrator at the beginning of book II, the "Throne of Royal State," the "Barbaric Pearl and Gold" that the "gorgeous East with richest hand / Show'rs on her Kings," Satan justifies, and maintains, his power by appeal to what he and his followers represent as the king-in-parliament model of heavenly government: the system of "Orders and Degrees" that "Jar not with liberty" (V. 792, 793) to which Satan refers when he tells his fellow fallen angels that the "just right and the fixt Laws of Heav'n / Did first create your Leader" (II. 18, 19). As we will see later, however, Satan appeals to this system precisely in order that he may establish a tyrannical rule over his fallen compatriots, imposing a top-down system in Hell after having explicitly rejected and rebelled against such a system in Heaven.

What is distinctly missing from Satan's political rhetoric is any mention of those who are ruled. Over whom, after all, do all of these "Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, [and] Powers" reign? If "those Imperial Titles" indicate that the angels were "ordain'd to govern, not to serve" (V. 801, 802), whom are the angels governing? Each other? William Empson somewhat whimsically suggests a solution to this problem by postulating the existence of what he calls "the vast dim class of proletarian angels who are needed so that angels with titles may issue orders" (Milton's God 60). Before the creation of Adam and Eve on a new-made Earth, one might ask the same question about the reign of the Father. Over whom, besides these "Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, [and] Powers" does the Father reign? Does the Father reign if there are no subjects but angelic princes and magistrates?

Protestant political theory, at least as it appears in Calvin, Luther, Mh ntzer, and Marshall, assumes as a given that magistracy and the power thereof is designed for the good of those who are ruled, basing this claim on Romans 13:4, where the magistrate is described as "the minister of God to thee for good." Marshall describes a proper Magistracy as one set up "with a sufficiencie of power and authority to rule for the publicke good" (3). However, in Paradise Lost, there appears to be no public, much less a public good, until the rebellion by Satan, and the subsequent creation of Adam and Eve on Earth. Until this radical break, heaven appears to have been little more than a gigantic May Day parade with only Party members in attendance. There is only dictatorship, no proletariat in Milton's prelapsarian heaven.

Milton's Critique

All of this, of course, is from Satan's point of view, and Satan is mouthing the very Protestant political cliches that Milton tears down in Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, his justification of the ways of the regicides to men. Why? Why does Milton have his Satan sound so much like Calvin, so much like Stephen Marshall, in his descriptions of the roles of princes and magistrates in relation to a king? Because Milton wants to ground his theory of political power in the very private persons whom Calvin and Luther so despise, the ruled (who do not themselves rule) that are conspicuously absent from pre-rebellion heaven. For Milton, it is "all men" who are "born to command, and not to obey" (TKM 754), not merely those who possess "Imperial Titles" as it is for Satan, or special "magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings" as it is for Calvin, or the "representative body of a State" as it is for Marshall. Milton casts the people in the role of Mh ntzer’s "elect," those "true friends of God" who take seriously their duty to God's church, and themselves have the power to oppose those "godless rulers who should be killed."

Milton is far more radical than his own Satan. Next to Satan's relatively mainstream rhetoric of "justified" rebellion against a tyrant, Milton's arguments glow white-hot by comparison. Where Satan grouses in reference to heaven's king, "Whom reason hath equall'd, force hath made supreme / Above his equals" (PL I. 248, 249), Milton brooks no use of the word equals. Much less than being the equal of the people, the king or magistrate is the servant of the people:

since the king or magistrate holds his authority of the people, both originally and naturally for their good in the first place, and not his own, then may the people, as oft as they shall judge it for the best, either choose him or reject him, retain him or depose him, though no tyrant, merely by the liberty and right of freeborn men to be governed as seems to them best. (TKM 757)

Milton holds on to God's role in this cycle of power by arguing that "the right of choosing, yea of changing their own government, is by the grant of God himself in the people" (TKM 757), which differs from Satan's claim to be "self-begot, self-rais'd (V. 860). Even more interestingly, Milton's claim differs from the political structure of pre-rebellion heaven as described in Book I of Paradise Lost. The angels who "sat as Princes, whom the supreme King / Exalted to such power, and gave to rule, / Each in his hierarchy, the Orders bright" (I. 733-737), receive their power from their ruler. The kings and magistrates of Milton's theory of power in TKM receive their power from the ruled. Of the Protestant theorists dealt with here, only Stephen Marshall allows for the possibility that the "supreme authority" may ever lie with the people: when the three branches of power (legislative, judicial, and executive) meet "in the body of the people, as in the ancient Roman Government, there is the highest power which every soule is forbidden to resist" (14).

Ultimately, Milton's attempt to ground the source of political power in the people (with God retained merely as the granter or giver of such power) in TKM threatens to undermine the entire top-down structure of political power relied upon not only by Luther, Calvin, Mh ntzer, and Marshall, but by Satan and even God himself in Paradise Lost. If the people may choose or reject, retain or depose a ruler, "though no tyrant, merely by the liberty and right of freeborn men to be governed as seems to them best," why may not, by the same logic, the people choose or reject, retain or depose a God, whether or not that God is conceived of as a tyrant? Why may not Satan and his followers choose or reject, retain or depose a God?

Milton seems aware of, and anxious about, this possibility. In his Defense of the People of England, Milton makes a rather curious non-response to the insinuation by Salmasius that in defending the execution of Charles I, Milton has become caught up in a logic that implies that "God himself would have had to be called king of tyrants, and indeed would be the greatest tyrant himself":

On your second conclusion I spit, and wish that blasphemous mouth of yours might be closed up, as you are asserting that God is the greatest tyrant. (99)

Angrily throwing Salmasius’ charge back at him is not an argument. Milton seems to wish to rest on an a priori notion of God’s goodness as a given, but when the charge is made that he undermines that given through his defense of the regicide, more is required than bluster and charges of blasphemy.

Furthermore, what is to prevent Hell's legions from choosing or rejecting, retaining or deposing Satan himself? Satan seems to realize that this possibility has now been made available since the rebellion in heaven, which is why he appeals immediately to the system of "Orders and Degrees" that "Jar not with liberty" (V. 792, 793) when he tells his fellow fallen angels that the "just right and the fixt Laws of Heav'n / Did first create [me] your Leader" (II. 18, 19). This may also explain the speed with which Satan moves to cut off the opportunity for any of the other fallen angels to step forth as his rival in the debate in Book II, as he "prevented all reply, / Prudent, lest from his resolution rais'd / Others among the chief might offer now / (Certain to be refus'd) what erst they fear'd; / And so refus'd might in opinion stand / His Rivals, winning cheap the high repute / Which he through hazard huge must earn" (II. 467-473). The reference to "opinion" is crucial: in a truly top-down system of political power, a system in which magistratical power was truly from God (God taken here in the sense of an unquestioned and unchallenged power, neither of which the God of PL has proven to be), "opinion" would be irrelevant. So also would be any question of earning "high repute." In a sense, Satan is trying, through appeals to the pre-rebellion system of an unquestioned top-down distribution of power, and through quick action to prevent anyone else from taking advantage of what Satan realizes is the new bottom-up political order, to stuff the genie that he let loose through rebellion in heaven back into a hopelessly smashed bottle. Satan's Protestantism and its concomitant political rhetoric is an attempt to preserve a system of power that, in truth, no longer exists, and merely serves as a justification for tyranny.

The view that would have this debate in Hell "cooked" by Satan and Beelzebub, seems to me to be overly invested in the game that William Empson describes as "the modern duty of catching Satan out wherever possible" (Milton's God 74). Sharon Achinstein describes this scene in what seems the typical manner: "In Paradise Lost, Satan's tyranny consists partly in not allowing free debate. [Where, then is the "free debate" in Heaven?] For the debate in hell is not really a free exchange of ideas; Satan wrote a script in which Beelzebub would propose his plan, and then Satan himself 'prevented all reply'" (Milton and the Revolutionary Reader 203). I tend to agree with Empson that for Satan "to arrange with his known friend to propose his plan, and then speak for it himself at once, is not underhand behavior" (56). It seems rather a strain to get the idea of "writing a script" from these lines: "Thus Beelzebub / Pleaded his devilish Counsel, first devis'd / By Satan, and in part propos'd: for whence, / But from the Author of all ill could Spring / So deep a malice . . . "(PL II. 378-382).

Milton uses Satan to critique tyranny. That much is commonplace. It is the way in which Milton uses Satan that is the interesting point. The Romantics were right, to a point. Satan's critiques of the "Tyranny of Heav’n" are stirring, even devastating criticisms, which no amount of Arminian apologism will fully deflect. However, Satan himself is a tyrant, perhaps doubly so, because in establishing his Infernal monarchy, he appeals to the very system of power that he once rejected. He appeals to this system of power in the language of 16th- and 17th-century Protestant political theories, theories that emphasize the political rights of princes while denying such rights to "private persons." Satan fits in quite nicely with those "dancing divines" Milton criticizes so harshly in TKM, hypocrites who use "the same quotations to charge others, which in the same case they made serve to justify themselves" (753). However, it is not Satan that Milton is holding up for criticism. Why bother with such an easy target? It is the "dancing divines" and the tradition out of which they have sprung and from which they argue that Milton is attacking by allying them with Satan. Luther’s call in Wider die räuberischen und mörderischen Rotten der andern Bauern ("Against the Thieving and Murdering Hordes of Peasants") to "cut, stab, choke, and strike the . . . peasants" is Satanic. Calvin's denial of the rights of the people to "undertake anything at all politically" is Satanic. Mh ntzer’s formulation of political power in which only the princes may be counted among the "elect," or among the "true friends of God" is Satanic. Even the theory of Milton's former teacher, Stephen Marshall, to the extent that it denies the people as the origin of political power is Satanic.

Satan is Milton's indictment of the failures of Protestant thought up to his day. Satan’s infamous "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n," and his subsequent rise to monarchy and tyranny form a curious and compelling metaphor for the Protestant Reformation, a rejection of Papacy that set up Prelates and Presbyters in the places of Bishops, Cardinals, and Popes. Milton puts Protestant rhetoric into Satan’s mouth as an indictment of everything that had, in his view, gone wrong with the attempt to reform the Church. Milton’s darkest implication is that both Catholics and Protestants serve the same Lord. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Works Cited

Achinstein, Sharon. Milton and the Revolutionary Reader. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2 vols. Trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Ed. John T. McNeill. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960

Empson, William. Milton's God. Norfolk, Connecticut: New Directions, 1961.

Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Complete Works of Josephus. William Whiston, trans. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1977.

Luther, Martin. "Secular Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed." Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. Timothy F. Lull, ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.

Marshall, Stephen. "A Letter Written by Mr. Stephen Marshall . . . of the Parliament's taking up Defensive Arms." Printed for John Rothwell, 1643.

Milton, John. A Defence of the People of England. Martin Dzelzainis, ed. John Milton: Political Writings. Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1991.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Merritt Hughes, ed. John Milton: Complete Pomes and Major Prose. New York: Macmillan, 1957.

Milton, John. Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. Merritt Hughes, ed. John Milton: Complete Pomes and Major Prose. New York: Macmillan, 1957.

Muntzer, Thomas. "Sermon Before the Princes." Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers: Documents Illustrative of the Radical Reformation. George Huntston William, ed. The Library of Christian Classics; v. 25. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957.

The Atheist Milton

Michael Bryson
(Ashgate  Press, 2012)

Basing his contention on two different lines of argument, Michael Bryson posits that John Milton–possibly the most famous 'Christian' poet in English literary history–was, in fact, an atheist.

First, based on his association with Arian ideas (denial of the doctrine of the Trinity), his argument for the de Deo theory of creation (which puts him in line with the materialism of Spinoza and Hobbes), and his Mortalist argument that the human soul dies with the human body, Bryson argues that Milton was an atheist by the commonly used definitions of the period. And second, as the poet who takes a reader from the presence of an imperious, monarchical God in Paradise Lost, to the internal-almost Gnostic-conception of God in Paradise Regained, to the absence of any God whatsoever in Samson Agonistes, Milton moves from a theist (with God) to something much more recognizable as a modern atheist position (without God) in his poetry.

Among the author's goals in The Atheist Milton is to account for tensions over the idea of God which, in Bryson's view, go all the way back to Milton's earliest poetry. In this study, he argues such tensions are central to Milton's poetry–and to any attempt to understand that poetry on its own terms.


The Tyranny of Heaven
Milton's Rejection of God as King

Michael Bryson
(U. Delaware Press, 2004)

The Tyranny of Heaven argues for a new way of reading the figure of Milton's God, contending that Milton rejects kings on earth and in heaven. Though Milton portrays God as a king in Paradise Lost, he does this neither to endorse kingship nor to recommend a monarchical model of deity. Instead, he recommends the Son, who in Paradise Regained rejects external rule as the model of politics and theology for Milton's "fit audience though few." The portrait of God in Paradise Lost serves as a scathing critique of the English people and its slow but steady backsliding into the political habits of a nation long used to living under the yoke of kingship, a nation that maintained throughout its brief period of liberty the image of God as a heavenly king, and finally welcomed with open arms the return of a human king.

Review of Tyranny of Heaven